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Crispy Pata and Other Filipino Dishes at Max's

Pia | Mar 6, 200510:06 PM

Scouting out the Crispy Pata recommended by ISO Crispy Pata a few weeks ago, five of us drove up to South San Francisco to check out Max's. Two of us are Filipino, a third lived there for 8 years, and we were all hopeful.

The Good News: the crispy pata is indeed excellent! The skin was uniformly brown and crunchy, and the meat and gelatinous bits were at the perfect stage of pull-apart tenderness, but not dry. The vinegar-based dipping sauce was perfectly balanced to provide the right counterpoint to the pork.

The Bad News: the fried chicken was pretty bad, despite the crisp skin. Unless you want chicken jerky, or have some peculiar nostalgia thing for sawdust, don't bother. (Then again, Max's in the Philippines is famous for their fried chicken, which has never gone over well with my family, which prefers some residual moisture in the flesh. The chicken is first boiled to kingdom come, dried, and then fried.)

More Bad News: the kare-kare (oxtail stew) was an exercise in frustration. The oxtail was tough, the veggies were insufficient (banana heart and squash were missing), and the sauce lacked both flavor and the characteristic texture of ground toasted rice. It desperately needed the kick from the bagoong (salted shrimp paste) that was served on the side. The pinakbet, a vegetable stew, was more of an overcooked saute. The rice, inexplicably served in a bamboo steam basket, was not of the best quality--inexcusable, especially since good rice is easier to find here than second-rate stuff. Oh, and the appetizer platter was not great either. The vegetable lumpia and the pork lumpia were okay, but the squid,the shrimp, and the wontons--all fried--were certainly not worth the calories.

Sweet Consolation: the halo-halo, something similar to the Singaporean/Malaysian ice kacang, was very good. It had lots of the different syrup-packed things required to make an authentic halo-halo, red and yellow beans, macapuno, jackfruit, etc.

There were a lot of other things on the menu that we didn't try. Given the dishes other than the crispy pata, I don't expect to find many good dishes. (Kare-kare is usually a very good gauge of the skills of a Filipino kitchen.)

In short, the crispy pata was really excellent, and very much worth the trip for us, and we wouldn't return to Max's except to eat it. (And maybe have some halo-halo.)

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